Sonos Studio NYC Brings a Hip Image to Hi-Fi

I personally never really expected Sonos to care much about the CI channel, but evidently, I was wrong. The wireless audio innovator clearly sees value in this channel—and there’s something rather warm and fuzzy about that idea to me. The Santa Barbara-based company is also proving to be a leader in the lossless digital audio movement.
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The introduction of the Deezer Elite audio streaming service through a partnership with Sonos was one of the more significant news items to come out of CEDIA EXPO 2014. High-resolution audio (HRA) is starting to hit a stride, and Deezer Elite was one of several “higher quality audio” nods at the show (Sony teaming up with CEDIA on an HRA training program being another big one). It’s a major trend, which is gaining momentum and has the audio industry pretty energized. Consumers, in turn, are showing a real interest when educated about it.

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The Sonos Studio NYC was a popup art and music studio residency, September 30 to October 5. 

What is particularly intriguing about the Deezer Elite service is its exclusive availability through Sonos dealers, who get a $50 commission for signing customers to a subscription. [It’s worth noting that the 16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC streaming service Deezer Elite is CD quality, which carries a bit of controversy when labeled as HRA; however, this is how Deezer has positioned it, and for simplicity sake in this blog, I choose to use the moniker. Back in June of this year, CEA, DEG, and The Recording Academy issued a formal definition that to be HRA, a recording must have been mastered from better than CD quality sources.]

Initially, Sonos was rather derided by the custom integration channel for being somewhat integrator unfriendly, offering little or no margins to dealers. With its mass-market brand recognition, however, many customers were asking for Sonos systems, and integrators were stuck in a bit of a bind—the customer is always right versus a lack of payback on their work.

I personally never really expected Sonos to care much about the CI channel, but evidently, I was wrong. The wireless audio innovator clearly sees value in this channel—and there’s something rather warm and fuzzy about that idea to me. The Santa Barbara-based company is also proving to be a leader in the lossless digital audio movement. There may not be a better brand to bring HRA to a younger generation, what with the mass appeal of Sonos and a hip image to boot.

I experienced firsthand just how hip Sonos is with an afternoon at the Sonos Studio NYC, a popup art and music studio residency in Manhattan, which wrapped up this past weekend. The acoustically tuned art gallery and music studio is a destination for artists and music creators to collaborate with Sonos, effectively a sort of lab for the creatively inclined to explore. Sonos has had a permanent version in LA for two years; the company first brought the concept on the road in 2013 to SXSW, the annual music, film, and interactive festival in Austin, Texas.

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 The build your own speaker workshop at the Sonos Studio used laser cutters and 3D printers, allowing visitors to create a unique souvenir to take home.

Some of the events scheduled were conversations and live performances by musicians, including Devonté Hynes and Aloe Blacc; a build-your-own-speakers workshop with Autodesk, using laser cutters and 3D printers; and a documentary screening of “Alive Inside,” about music’s ability to awaken memory. There were a number of really compelling art installations, fusing audio with visual. 

In the interactive installation Sounds of NYC, more than 300 Sonos Play:1 speakers reacted to surrounding music and movement with various lights. The installation also doubled as a map of NYC, where viewers could choose an area and hear some iconic music from that part of the city.

In Ancient Chaos, a Mylar ribbon on the ceiling was created by a microphone connected to a spectrum analyzer, organizing the varying sounds into frequencies, choosing two that occur around the levels of speech. The two sections of Ancient Chaos were controlled by the variations in those two frequencies of speech.

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 The Ancient Chaos overhead installation.

In another installation, Live Hands, speakers were transformed from inanimate objects into live musical instruments, where every touch, shake and twist created a unique remix.

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The Live Hands installation allowed visitors to get hands on.

Entry to the Sonos Studio NYC simply required online registration before the events filled up, which all of them did. The benefit for Sonos was simply to present and align its vision with artists and musicians that create compelling entertainment for people to enjoy. As articulated by Eric Nielsen, senior PR manager for Sonos, “We’re all about collaborating with artists and allowing them to create that vision.”

If young people were considered hopeless at one point in regard to appreciation for hi-fi music, Sonos is uniquely poised to change that.

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